Back to Courier Columns Page

by Ray Carlson

Q. Visitors from Canada were confused when they used a credit card and did not have to enter a PIN. I thought only debit cards used PINs. The visitors said it is computer technology at work.

A. In several countries including Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and most of Europe, both credit cards and debit cards require use of PINs. This system has been problematic for US travelers who need to use cash or hunt out special cashiers who can still handle US-issued cards. Clearly, the PIN system is safer since a thief cannot simply steal your credit card or number but must also gain access to the PIN associated with the card. That system requires inserting a microchip in the card and using card readers that are able to read the chip, changes that are expensive for the card issuer and the merchant.

Microchips have revolutionized several facets of daily life from computers to cameras to implants in animals. It is natural that they can also improve security for credit cards. In addition to allowing a PIN, such cards are safer since the chips are harder to copy or modify than magnetic strips and use unique information for each purchase so that stealing the information for one transaction cannot be used to make a separate purchase.

None of the other security protections tried have been as effective as the chip and PIN approach [which is also called EMV for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa, the card issuers who initiated the process in England ten years ago]. Some US card issuers have used a chip and signature approach to avoid the cost of issuing new cards when a PIN is lost, but the security is weaker.

With the US behind most major industrial countries, fraud thieves are targeting this country creating pressure for change. Expect to see rapid switching to chip and PIN cards and new developments that will take advantage of the memory capacity of microchips.

Published: Courier 12/14/14 - Page 3D